My Bully Boss
October is National Bullying Prevention Month. For the next three weeks I’ll be talking about bullying in different aspects and how to preserve yourself if you find yourself being bullied. Yes, I said preserve yourself. Read on to learn why I chose this word. Also, be on the lookout for the additional blog posts in this series, The Bully in My Bed and The Bully in My Head.
Today I want to talk about being bullied at work and to share my own experience of having a bully boss. There are many different definitions of the word bullying. According to a quick Google search bullying is when someone uses their “superior strength or influence to intimidate someone”. Research shows nearly 50% of workers indicate being affected by bullying either directly or indirectly. Bullying is a form of mental abuse and can take its toll on the person receiving the mistreatment.
Here’s my story:
I had been working at this particular company for a little over 3 years when my bully boss joined the company in June of 2014. Within the first month on the job all hell started to break loose on the team. My bully boss was very abrasive and verbally abusive. She would chastise the team for decisions that were made before she even started working there; decisions that previous bosses had made or supported. Everything we did was wrong. Basically, she behaved as if everyone under her was incompetent, lazy, and stupid. It was not uncommon to be yelled at, lied to, and lied on. Everyone was on edge, constantly defending themselves and each other.
On one occasion she sat across from me and told me I should quit. She said it three times and followed each time with an awkward silence as if waiting on me to say, “I quit!” Maybe I should have. We had just finished a conference call in which she was very accusatory and offensive. The other person in the meeting was also offended by her so much so that he took months to give her what she asked for! I really didn’t like her leadership style and I tried to have a conversation with her about applying for positions on other teams. At this firm you can’t apply for internal positions without your manager’s consent. I told her I didn’t think things were going to work out for me in this position. Before I had a chance to bring up my desire to apply internally, she responded, “You should quit then.”
One day I came to work around 8:15. This is completely normal for me as well as others on the team. She had been at the company for about a month at this time. My bully boss sends me an email stating that I was late to work. I asked how so and explained that I always get to work around 8:15 or 8:30 depending on traffic. This was completely normal as well. That is for my bully boss to take an issue with something she never communicated. She never told the team she wanted us to start coming in at 8 yet here I was in trouble for not showing up at 8. My boss and I go to a huddle room to chat. She said, “If you want to come in at 8:30 that’s fine.” Once we returned to our desks she sends me an email stating, “Since you changed your hours you are now working from 8:30-5:30.” I thought either this woman is crazy or she bcc’d someone on this email, because I didn’t change my hours! I realize now that that is what bullies do. Everything is your fault. You are always wrong and you’ve done things you didn’t really do.
The environment continued to worsen. It was so bad one of my colleagues just quit. She didn’t put in two weeks notice. She didn’t even have another job lined up. On a random Tuesday after speaking with the bosses boss and HR that Monday she sends an email saying she’s not coming back. The situation was taking its toll on me as well. I told another colleague I felt emasculated and I’m a woman!
The week my coworker quit my bully boss puts me on a performance improvement plan. Why? “Charlene went to a meeting and didn’t take notes. I asked Bob (name changed to protect the innocent) to schedule a meeting with Charlene and he didn’t. Charlene needs to answer my emails before 2 pm.” It was crazy! When my bully boss first started, back when I still liked her, I had a one on one with her. She asked me what did I like about my job and what did I not like. I replied that I really like working on the Texas media analysis but that some parts of my job were monotonous. She agrees and stated that someone more junior could be doing some of the things I was doing. However, when she wanted to write me up she stated that I told her my job was boring. Another bully move. Manipulating the facts and telling half truths.
The following week, my bully boss asked me did I have anything to say about the performance improvement plan. I said, “no.” I couldn’t tell her the truth. I couldn’t say that I thought it was trivial and frivolous and that she was using it as a weapon to punish me and not as a tool to improve me. She had twisted and manipulated my words so many times before. So, I said nothing. Her response, “You’re being disengaged.” She eventually grabs her things and storms out of the room.
Speaking up and saying that I did not fit on that team did not work. Keeping quiet did not work. I had to get into agreement with my bully boss. I had to pause before answering any question and ask myself, “What does she want to hear?” Getting into agreement with a lie about you or how you feel is dangerous.
This is how I handled my bully boss. At first I defended myself to no end. That led to me being written up, punished, told I was insubordinate. So I kept quiet, but bullies don’t want your silence. They either want you to be distraught or apologetic. They either want to watch your spirits be crushed or to hear you acknowledge that you were wrong and they were right. Bullies want control over you. They want to control how you think and what you believe about yourself. A bully wants you to believe very little in yourself. The lower your esteem and confidence the more control they can yield over you.
Agreeing with a bully might smooth things over in the short run but in the long run you lose yourself. You’ve agreed with their interpretation of who you are for so long that you don’t know who you are anymore. It’s similar to a prostitute being loyal to her pimp who beats her and steals her money. He’s told her for so long that she’s worth nothing and no one cares about her but him. Soon enough she believes him and accepts the mistreatment in exchange for false affection and security. My bully boss told me at one time that everyone wanted to fire me (even though I had just received an on target mid year review). She said that she told them not to. She said she would coach and mentor me and take me under her wing. She said she was on my side. My bully boss wanted me to believe that I was unworthy and not an asset. She wanted me to believe that no one wanted me but her. She wanted to force my loyalty, intimidate me, and scare me.
I’m extremely thankful that I was only under my bully boss for three months before I got fired. Yes, I lost my job, but I kept myself. When I tried to change teams my boss stopped the transfer and let me go instead. Bullies often retaliate against those who attempt to free themselves from the bully’s influence. They have such an unhealthy need for control over others that nothing is beneath them when they feel out of control. The thing that kept my sanity in check is that I know who I am and I like who I am. In fact, I like myself even more after seeing how horrible some people can be. But who knows where I would be had I stayed at that firm for much longer.
If you’re being bullied or have been bullied you should know:
You are not alone. It happens often, but people are afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation. Furthermore, the bully is probably adored by most people (except the few who know the truth). That makes it seem as if you’re crazy or causing the issues. You are not. This is a real thing and bullies know what they are doing. They are very strategic about who they bully and how.
It’s not your fault. What people do to you and say to you speaks more about them than it does about you. Some bullies need to have someone to pick on and belittle at all times. They need to feel superior in order to feel adequate. After I was fired my bully boss put someone else on a performance improvement plan (Bob) and ultimately let them go as well.
You don’t deserve it. You never deserve to be mistreated no matter what anyone says.
You can get out. Don’t believe that you have no other options or that no one else will find you valuable. You are valuable.
You can regain your confidence and self worth. It is possible to get back to the person you know yourself to be. For more information about one on one coaching with me to help you regain your confidence and sense of self visit the coaching page.
What to do in the meantime
If you a temporary stuck in a situation where you are being bullied there are things you can do to preserve your true self and keep you esteem high. This is so important because if you believe the lies of the bully you’ll be too insecure to find a better situation.
- Remind yourself who you are. This may include reciting mantras or affirmations (I am valuable), meditating, praying or journal. If the bully tells you you never do anything right, when you are alone tell yourself all the things you have done right. If you need help reminding yourself who you are download The Truth About You workbook free of charge.
- Record everything that happens with the bully. This serves two purposes. One, if you’re being bullied at work you have an account of everything and you don’t have to try to remember details. Two, when the bully tells you something that isn’t true about a specific event and you’re starting to wonder if you’re crazy you have something to refer to.
- Solicit the help of friends and loved ones. Don’t suffer alone. Speak up so that other people can also remind you who you are.
- Work with a coach or other professional to help you process your current situation and develop a plan for the future you want.
Bullying is never okay. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect, love, and humility. Never accept this type of treatment and understand that it is not about you. Having an exit strategy and learning techniques for coping in the meantime are your best solutions. To learn more about bullying at work visit www.workplacebullying.org.